Detroit’s Board of Police Commissioners gets a number of citizen complaints about law enforcement. The Detroit Police Department handles allegations of criminal conduct, while the BOPC’s chief investigator deals with non-criminal complaints.
And those are piling up.
Bridge Detroit reports commissioners face a backlog of almost 800 complaints over police procedures, use of force, searches and arrests.
Officials blame COVID-19.
“It depends who you ask,” says Bridge Detroit reporter Bryce Huffman. “If you ask Lawrence Akbar, the interim chief investigator, he says it’s all about the pandemic and not having as many people to handle the immense caseload.”
“[Citizens] just want their cases handled in a more timely manner.” — Bridge Detroit reporter Bryce Huffman
The Office of the Chief Investigator lost eight investigators in 2021, the second year of the pandemic. That raises questions as to whether something besides COVID is the problem.
“If you ask some of the folks who worked at OCI or some of the BOPC staff, they blame other things,” Huffman says. “But no one would go on record to say what the main cause was.”
Help is on the way
The commission has hired seven new people who are going through the city’s human resources process. Many of the new hires have prior law enforcement backgrounds.
Read Bryce Huffman’s article: “Police complaint backlog means fewer Detroit residents being heard.”
“There’s scrutiny on the board for hiring former DPD officers as investigators,” Huffman says. “But those are also the people who have the necessary skills to do it.”
Rev. Jim Holley chairs the BOPC. Huffman says Holley defends the new hires.
“They’re the ones who understand how policing works,” Huffman says. “They know how and where to get information.”
Huffman interviewed some of the people who filed complaints and are still waiting for a resolution. He says the backlog could undermine confidence in the commission and its ability to hold police accountable.
“They just want their cases handled in a more timely manner,” Huffman says. “And a lot of them feel that if complaints aren’t being handled quickly, are police really being held accountable?”
Bridge Detroit is one of WDET’s reporting partners.
More from WDET: